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Nearly 50% of Produce Sampled at Saigon Wholesale Markets Contains Pesticide Residues

Nearly 50% samples of fruits and vegetables gathered from Saigon wholesale markets were found to contain pesticide residues, while significant amounts of seafood tested positive for dangerous metals and banned antibiotics.

Representatives offered the troubling findings at a conference to present six years of work by the Ho Chi Minh City Food Safety Management Board. Specifically, pesticides such as carbendazim, permethrin and imidacloprid were discovered on 271 out of 570 produce samples taken from three different wholesale markets in Saigon. Heavy metals, particularly cadmium, were found to exceed permitted levels in 42% of seafood samples while banned antibiotics were found in 37% of seafood tested. 

The HCMC Department of Industry and Trade reports that approximately 70% of Saigon's daily food supply comes from wholesale markets, of which there are three major facilities in the area. The frightening numbers may point to larger problems, as critics of the investigations claim that too few samples were taken of the more than 6,500 tons of agricultural products that arrive at the markets each night, and thus significant amounts of infected foodstuffs cannot be removed from the supply chain.

Agencies simply lack the resources to examine more items. Moreover, the length of time it takes to receive test results makes the process ineffective for capturing tainted products. 

Saigon residents have long professed food safety concerns stemming from a lack of transparency in production and distribution, as well as minimal oversight at points of sale and preparation. Standards and compliance efforts have been minimally enforced despite various proposed labeling and inspection schemes, including making all items traceable to points of origin. The concerns about chemicals in Vietnam's raw and prepared foods have spread to international markets as well, including a recent high-profile recall of beloved Vietnamese instant noodles in Europe.

Following the release of the report, the Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Control Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development requested the Food Safety Management Board of HCMC to re-assess the findings in fear of the impact on export prices and demands. 

Over the past six years, documented instances of food poisoning have affected 185 people and resulted in seven deaths. During the same time period, inspectors visited 327,554 establishments around the city, recording violations at 36,953 of them. Authorities recently proposed upgrading the Food Safety Management Board into a department to better surveil, test and inspect food.

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